The government will make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for frontline home care and NHS staff from April 1, 2022.
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed the news in the House of Commons today (November 9) after considering responses from a consultation which launched in September.
The requirement will apply across health and wider social care settings that are regulated by the Care Quality Commission.
“Having considered the consultation responses, the advice of my officials and NHS leaders, including the chief executive of the NHS, I have concluded that all those working in the NHS and social care will have to be vaccinated,” Javid told MPs.
“We must avoid preventable harm and protect patients in the NHS, protect colleagues in the NHS and of course protect the NHS itself. Only those colleagues who can show that they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can be employed or engaged in those settings.”
Those who do not have face-to-face contact with patients or who are medically exempt will not be required to get vaccinated.
Meanwhile, the Health and Social Care Secretary said staff would not be required to have a winter flu jab, although this remains under review.
The announcement comes despite warnings that up to a quarter of the home care workforce could be lost if COVID-19 vaccination becomes a condition of deployment.
Commenting on the news, Dr Jane Townson, CEO of the Homecare Association, said: “The Homecare Association strongly supports vaccination of the homecare workforce and we lobbied hard, right from the beginning, to ensure it was as easy as possible for homecare workers to access vaccinations.
“From the outset, though, we have argued that persuasion is likely to be more effective than compulsion in encouraging uptake among remaining careworkers with genuine fears. We are thus disappointed by the government’s policy decision; their bullying approach towards the health and care workforce; and their failure to acknowledge the potential risks of losing at least 120,000 careworkers.
“The government has no contingency plan for dealing with a potential loss of regulated homecare for over 120,000 older and disabled people. Who will care for them? How will councils and the NHS cope with the fallout?”
The Homecare Association stressed the importance of balancing the mitigated risk of infection with the risk of unavailability of care at home for highly dependent older and disabled people.
It explained that if 120,000 workers leave the sector as a result of the new policy, this could result in over 120,000 older and disabled people losing access to home care.
Dr Townson added: “Vaccination is a key line of defence against serious illness, but was only ever part of a wider set of infection prevention and control measures. During the first phase of COVID-19, when there was inadequate PPE, no routine testing and no vaccines, homecare workers kept people safe and deaths from COVID-19 of people at home were very much lower than those in care homes. Data suggest that vaccinated people may be able to spread the delta variant of COVID-19 as readily as unvaccinated people. Careworkers have thus continued to follow guidelines on PPE, regular testing, ventilation, cleaning and other IPC measures.”
Latest data from the Homecare Association shows that despite the challenges, 84.1% of home care workers have had the first dose of vaccine, and 75.4% the second dose.